|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
In accordance with the provisions of An Act for protecting the Crown Lands of this Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass 4 Will IV No.10 1833, "Commissioners of Crown Lands in the Colony of New South Wales" were to be appointed. They were to have the power of Bailiffs and were to prevent any unauthorised intrusion, encroachment or trespass on crown lands. They were authorised to make "perambulations and surveys" of crown lands and to require the assistance of Justices of the Peace when necessary. They were also authorised to erect landmarks or beacons in a manner approved by the Surveyor-General to denote crown lands and their boundaries.
In the following year, settlement in the Port Phillip District was authorised and Captain William Lonsdale was appointed Police Magistrate. An Act to restrain unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands 7 Will IV No.4 became operative in 1836. This Act provided for the issue of annual licences to depasture cattle and other animals on lands beyond the limits of location. Regulations governing the issue of these licences were published in the New South Wales Government Gazette of October 5 1836 and the Commissioners of Crown Lands were to be responsible for giving effect to the regulations. Renewal of depasturing licences was subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Crown Lands on whose report a licence could be cancelled. Surveyors Robert Russell and Frederick Robert D'Arcy were appointed Commissioners of Crown Lands in September 1836.
The Civil Establishment of 1839 for Port Phillip District cites a single Commissioner for Crown Lands - H F Gisborne. By 1840 there were Commissioners for Western Port and Portland Bay and by 1843 there were Commissioners of Crown Lands for Portland Bay, Western Port, Gippsland, Murray, the County of Bourke and the County of Grant. By 1846 a further Commissioner for the Wimmera District, proclaimed on 9 November 1846, had been added to the Civil Establishment.
Administration of Crown Lands
The Commissioners of Crown Lands reported to the Superintendent until 1851 and then to the Colonial Secretary until 1853 when F A Powlett was appointed as Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands and head of the Crown Lands Department (VA 2878). This Department was to be responsible for the sale, occupation and exploration of crown lands. With the establishment of responsible government in 1855, the Surveyor-General became the Minister responsible for the Commissioners of Crown Lands until March 1857 when the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey was appointed to the Ministry.
In 1857 the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was established and the powers of the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey were vested in the Board. In 1858 a Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey was reappointed to the Ministry, but statutory responsibility remained with the Board of Land and Works of which the Commissioner was President. From 1857 the Commissioners of Crown Lands were located within the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538), a sub-department of the Board of Land and Works.
Duties of the Commissioners
The duties of Commissioners of Crown Lands included the prevention of unauthorised occupation of crown land; regulation of the boundaries of pastoral runs; prevention of encroachment and settlement of disputes; prohibition of cattle stealing and the impounding of stray beasts; collection of fees payable for government licences and collection of the stock assessment tax. The Commissioners dealt with applications for depasturing licences and provided each settler with a stock assessment notice. Commissioners also prepared returns for the Colonial Secretary regarding licensed runs and their occupants, the employment and conduct of the Border Police under their command and a monthly itinerary of their own activities. The Commissioners were also responsible for preventing clashes between the settlers and the Aborigines and as part of their duties as honorary protectors of Aborigines, they were required to visit reserves, report on the condition of the Aborigines and to supply them with food and clothing in cases of extreme emergency.
In 1853, the recently appointed Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, F.A. Powlett, described the field duties of the Commissioners as being, "estimating the grazing capabilities of runs, the value of land allotted under pre-emptive right, visiting the localities where new runs have been tendered for, preventing the unlawful occupation of Crown Lands, and the performance of other services". He described their official duties as being, "the recommendation of all transfers of runs, the examination of claims to purchase land under the eighth clause of the Orders in Council. The preparation of reports and returns and general correspondence with the Government and the public.
In the unsettled parts of the colony and in Districts beyond the boundaries of location, the Commissioners of Crown Lands also acted as Stipendiary or Police Magistrates. In correspondence accompanying the Return of duties performed by the Commissioners of Crown Lands from 1 January to 20 October 1853, (Papers Presented to Parliament 1853/54, Vol.3), F.A. Powlett, reported that the discharge of their Magisterial duties occupied so much of the Commissioners' time that they were unable to properly perform their duties as Commissioners of Crown Lands.
In 1839, an Act (2 Vic No.27) provided for the establishment of the Border Police. The Act authorized the levying of a tax on cattle and other animals depastured beyond the boundaries of location to defray in part the expense of maintaining the Border Police. Standing Orders for the Border Police published in the Victoria Government Gazette of 22 May 1839 placed the Border Police under the command of the Commissioners of Crown Lands who were to report monthly on the conduct of each individual. Instructions from the Colonial Secretary's Office to the Commissioners of Crown Lands dated 20 June 1846, required them to discharge the Border Police from 30 June 1846 since no further provision had been made for them within the Appropriation Act, although they were permitted to retain half a division if there had been a recent clash between the Aborigines and the settlers.
A Confidential Circular to Commissioners of Crown Lands from the Colonial Secretary's Office dated 20 June 1846 warned them of an imminent loss of powers following the expiry of provisions of Act 2 Vic No.27. They were no longer to have the power to settle disputes between the occupiers of crown lands nor to call for returns of stock. They were further informed that while their powers to remove intruders were in doubt, it remained unlawful for anyone to occupy crown lands without a licence and the Commissioners were to continue to report any unauthorised occupation.
Replacement of Commissioners with District Surveyors
Some secondary sources such as the Victorian Year Book (e.g. 1968) have suggested that following a reorganisation of the Department in 1857, Commissioners of Crown Lands were replaced by District Surveyors. There is some support for this view in the report of the Civil Service Commission of 1859/60 which states that the Legislative Assembly had made no provision for the continuation of the Land Occupation Branch to which the Commissioners belonged. This report also affirms that District Surveyors had been appointed to act as Commissioners of Crown Lands. The Civil Establishment for 1858, however, continues to cite a Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands and Commissioners of Crown Lands for Wimmera and Portland Bay but there is no reference to the Commissioners for the other districts.
There is evidence to suggest that the duties of the Commissioners of Crown Lands were carried out by officers who held other positions in the Civil Service. William Piper, who was the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Murray District (VA 2711) continued to carry out duties associated with this position at least until 1860, although from 1858 he is listed in the Civil Establishment as the Police Magistrate, Benalla (see VPRS 7294). Appointments of Commissioners of Crown Land are found in the Government Gazettes for this period, but the appointees usually hold another substantial position eg. as Police Magistrate or Resident Warden and the Commissioner of Crown Lands positions are not designated by district. Further research is required to determine the final year in which Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed.